New Delhi: “We need to focus on protecting, conserving, and mindfully using water for agriculture,” experts from the United Nations food agencies said, while discussing the extreme climate patterns and depleting groundwater resources India is facing, on the occasion of World Food Day on October 16 at the UN House, Delhi.
India’s Groundwater Status
India is home to 18 percent of the world’s population, but has only four per cent of its water resources, making it among the most water-stressed countries in the world, according to the report by NITI Aayog. If we look at the groundwater status in the country, it accounts for 40 per cent of India’s water needs and is depleting at an unsustainable rate. According to the UN World Water Development Report 2022, India is the world’s largest groundwater extractor, accounting for 12 per cent of global extraction.
With these concerning numbers, the experts said that there is a need for India to accelerate a transition towards an agri-food system that is more sustainable, resilient and uses water more efficiently.
Professor Ramesh Chand, member NITI Aayog, and Chairman of the Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi, said that in order to progress in sustainable agriculture and achieve food security for all, the first thing to do is to sensitise the stakeholders and sensitise the societies about the issue. He added,
There is time for action now; if we act, we can address this water problem. But if we do not act at this stage, it will be too late.
Takayuki Hagiwara, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative in India, said that with the extreme climate patterns and depleting groundwater resources, the focus needs to be on protection, conservation, and mindful use of water for agriculture. He further said,
The Government of India understands the issues related to water and its utmost importance in agriculture and food security. FAO’s focus is to advocate and support the sustainable transformation of agri-food systems and climate-smart agriculture practices to improve water efficiency in India.
Actions Required To Make Agriculture Climate Resilient
Ulac Demirag, India Country Director and Representative, IFAD, said that the erratic weather conditions and variability in water availability are affecting agricultural production, changing agro-ecological conditions, and shifting the growing seasons. However, there are a number of ways to make agriculture more sustainable and ensure water and food security, he said while speaking to NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India team. The IFAD Country Representative said,
We have to look at the kind of crops that we are growing. There are several crops that draw a lot of water from the soil. We need to switch to water saving crops in the water deficit areas, such as pulses, millets. Besides, we must also focus on creating microclimates on farms, by putting a shade cover, combining trees with small crops, and much more.
Mr Demirag said that India must also look up to countries who have set an example in making agriculture sustainable, such as Australia. He further said,
Australia is a country where the maximum amount of farming is rainfed. So, how do they produce? They have long ago shifted to conservation agriculture and have abundant tillage. They leave the soil in its natural geo ecological condition that gives it much better water retention capacity. These are some of the measures we can take into consideration.
Elisabeth Faure, Representative and Country Director, WFP India, said,
Water is essential for food production. Often, we forget that there is no food security without water security.
Ms Faure said that WFP, along with the Centre, is working on innovative approaches to produce more food with less water and ensure greener and more sustainable food production. She said,
Such innovations are needed to improve crop yields, implement efficient irrigation strategies, reuse drainage water and use of water resources of marginal quality, improve crop protection, reduce post-harvest losses, and create more sustainable livestock and marine production.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – theLGBTQ population,indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the currentCOVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water,SanitationandHygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fightmalnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health,adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues likeair pollution,waste management,plastic ban,manual scavengingand sanitation workers andmenstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India wheretoiletsare used andopen defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched byPrime Minister Narendra Modiin 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.